Can You Fill A Controlled Substance Early?

There is no simple answer!


I have a script due on the 14th; however, I ran out (I lost some for sure; pants pockets...cleaners. 99.9% sure). Today is the 11th. It’s not the end of the world but it’s going to be uncomfortable. Is there any chance of me getting my medicine, even a few until the 14th? I have the prescription and I tried to fill it while grocery shopping one day and they thought I was playing games.

Asked by Frustrated On Aug 11, 2018

Answered by
Medical Content Reviewed By PharmacistAnswers Staff

On Aug 11, 2018
Handing Prescription


Whether or not you can fill a controlled substance prescription early depends on many factors, including:

  • Laws in your state
  • Policies of the Pharmacy
  • Circumstances As To Why It Is Being Filled Early

I discuss each topic below.

Controlled Substance Fills And The Law

Federal and state laws are the most important when it comes to early refill requests for controlled substances. It is important to know that federal and state law are often different in the pharmacy world, but the strictest law applies.

For example, federal law states that certain controlled substances (schedule III and IV) expire 6 months after the date they are written (1). In New York State, however, they expire 30 days from the date they were written. If you are in New York State, your pharmacy must follow the state law as it is more strict.

When it comes to filling your controlled substance prescription early, whether or not it is a refill or fill from a new prescription, laws again vary. Federal law leaves some room for interpretation but does say that it is both the responsibility of the prescriber and pharmacist to prevent drug abuse, misuse, and diversion:

"The responsibility for the proper prescribing and dispensing of controlled substances is upon the prescribing practitioner, but a corresponding responsibility rests with the pharmacist who fills the prescription."

While some states don't have specific laws regarding how early you can fill a prescription relative to your last, many do. Going back to New York, they very specifically state that the user cannot refill their prescription if they have more than a '7 day supply' left from their last:

"No additional prescriptions for a controlled substance may be issued by a practitioner to an ultimate user within 30 days of the date of any prescription previously issued unless and until the ultimate user has exhausted all but a seven days' supply of that controlled substance provided by any previously issued prescription."

It is important to know the laws in your state so you can have a better understanding as to what is allowed when it comes to filling (or refilling) a controlled substance.

Policies Of The Pharmacy

In addition to federal and state regulations, individuals pharmacies or pharmacy chains may have even stricter policies. For example, Walmart and CVS recently announced new policies that limit acute opioid prescriptions to a maximum of 7 days for most individuals.

Pharmacies may also have their own policy when it comes to how early they will fill a controlled substance and whether or not they will even fill controlled substance prescriptions that are written out-of-state.

Lastly, it is very common for individual pharmacists to have different ideas of how soon a controlled substance can be filled. If they have reason to believe that the prescription fill is for abuse or misuse (which includes individual misuse), they may not fill it.

Circumstances For Early Controlled-Fill

Let's say you are in a situation where you simply lost or had your controlled substance prescription stolen. What to do, and what will happen, is a little less clear.

In almost every situation, your pharmacy will not fill a controlled substance early unless they talk to the prescriber. Even if you state you lost your prescription, the pharmacy will need verification from the doctor and will be sure to document all conversations regarding the situation. Even then, if there is a pattern that arises, your pharmacy may deny the script anyway.

Your best plan of action when a controlled substance prescription is lost is to talk to your doctor. They will absolutely need to verify and authorize an early fill (if they do). They will also need to talk to your pharmacy.

If your prescription is stolen, it is best to offer as much proof as possible and file a police report. We discussed this recently: Stolen Controlled Substance: What To Do?

Final Words

As you can see, there is no definitive answer when it comes to 'when can you fill your controlled substance prescription'.

The laws in your state are most important to understand. When it comes to extenuating circumstances, such as a lost prescription or you need some for a trip out of town, your best bet is to discuss this with your doctor. Only they will be able to authorize an early fill and they will need to talk to your pharmacist as well.


  • There are several factors to take into account regarding whether or not you can fill your controlled substance prescription early, including the laws of the state you live in and the circumstances around the reason for needing to fill early.

  • References
    1. Walmart Will Implement New Opioid Prescription Limits By End Of Summer. NPR
    2. Part 80: Rules and Regulations on Controlled Substances in NYS. NY Health
    3. Title 21 Code of Federal Regulations. DEA

    About the Pharmacist

    Dr. Brian Staiger Pharm.D

    Dr. Brian Staiger is a licensed pharmacist in New York State and the founder of He graduated from the University At Buffalo with a Doctor of Pharmacy degree in 2010. He has been featured in numerous publications including the Huffington Post as well as a variety of health and pharmacy-related blogs. Please feel free to reach out to him directly if you have any inquiries or want to connect! He's answered thousands of medication and pharmacy-related questions and he's ready to answer yours! Office: 716-389-3076

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